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Unit information: Constructing the 'Other' in Western Europe, c.1000 - 1400 (Level H Lecture Response) in 2016/17

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Unit name Constructing the 'Other' in Western Europe, c.1000 - 1400 (Level H Lecture Response)
Unit code HIST39012
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Wei
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Did Christian society become increasing intolerant, attacking Jews, Muslims and heretics more and more violently? Or did Christians simply imagine others in ways that helped them to define their own identities? Were non-human others, such as animals, angels and devils, imagined differently from human others? These questions have underpinned the work of historians in different fields of medieval Western European history. We will bring together these various fields to pose fundamental questions about the nature of medieval society and to test various explanatory models.

Were some groups defined and persecuted in order to enhance the power of rulers and their bureaucrats? Was there a distinctive medieval concern about purity and taboo? Were some images of the other constructed in attempts to understand the unknown? Are historians misled by a rhetoric of abuse which they over-interpret? Was otherness merely a construction of learned clerics which most people ignored?

Topics will include: heretics, Jews, Muslims, angels, devils, ghosts, concepts of race, class conflict, gender difference, sexual deviance, animals, monsters, travel, lepers.


  • To develop understanding of the different ways in which medieval people constructed others to justify persecution and/or against which to define their own identity.
  • To bring together fields of medieval Western European history which are usually studied separately.
  • To provide a deeper understanding of changes in Western Europe in the middle ages.
  • To test a range of explanatory models used in history and anthropology.
  • To develop the ability to learn independently within a small-group context.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students should:

  • Have a deeper awareness of how to approach longer-term historical analysis
  • Be able to set individual issues within their longer term historical context
  • Be able to analyse and generalise about issues of continuity and change
  • Be able to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general historical points
  • Be able to derive benefit from and contribute effectively to large group discussion
  • Be able to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically and form an individual viewpoint
  • Have a wider historical knowledge of Western Europe, c.1000-1400
  • Have developed an understanding of the different ways in which medieval people constructed an other against which to define their own identity
  • Be able to deploy and assess the value of a range of explanatory models used in history and anthropology.

Teaching details

Weekly 2-hour interactive lecture sessions

Tutorial feedback on essay

Access to tutorial consultation with unit tutor in office hours

Assessment Details

1 x 3000 word essay (50%) and 1 x 2 hour exam (50%)

Reading and References

S. C. Akbari, Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100-1450 (Ithaca, 2009)

N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (London, 1970)

M. Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London, 1966, reprinted 2002).

R. I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority and Deviance in Western Europe, 950-1250 (Oxford, second edition, 2007).

D. Nirenberg, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages (1996)

J. R. S. Phillips, The Medieval Expansion of Europe (Oxford, second edition, 1998).

J. Richards, Sex, Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages (London, 1991).

J. E. Salisbury, The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages (New York, 1994).

D. H. Strickland, Saracens, Demons, Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton, 2003)